Humans are creatures of habit, but many of our habits are endangering our very humanity. The world we have inherited and the world we will leave behind picture two very different scenarios, and in the space between the two we position distinct attitudes of production, use, and disposal. With 85 percent of all clothes produced ending up in landfills, and modern-day slavery being often associated with the textile industry, it´s fair to ask what sense of responsibility the fashion industry has, and how can it be pushed to effect real change.
Looks from Ashish AW18 collections, inspired by bad taste and fast fashion.
Contemporary lifestyles revolve around feel-better philosophies that aim to improve one´s life, and this sense of improvement is closely connected to acceleration, over-consumption, over-production, and, naturally, increasing waste. Be better, do better, have more – these are common mottos in contemporary ideologies which sadly end up being treated interchangeably. The consequent urge to buy more than necessary is by now seen as commonplace, and rarely challenged. The urge to produce more than necessary, on the other hand, must fall under a different type of scrutiny. Beyond the obvious economic drive (essentially the only logic in the case of fast-fashion producers), for many designers and creatives in the fashion industry, the need to make more clothes comes from a genuine desire to share their vision and explore the endless possibility of their talent and craft. The answer to “why we produce more?” is easily acceptable: we must encourage creativity and allow artistic vision to flourish. A more problematic question is “how we produce more?”
Eight million tons of plastic enter the planet´s oceans every year, with estimates that by 2050 there will be more plastic in the oceans than marine life forms, unless major change occurs. 86 percent of the ocean plastic is discarded in Asia, which is also where 86 percent of polyester textiles are manufactured; more than “60 percent of global fibre market is polyester.” These figures are easily clouded by the more compelling ones referring to the value of the fashion industry: 3.000 billion dollars, or 2 percent of the world´s GDP, with a labour force of 3.384 million. The intricate road from design to final product is paved with many opportunities for exploitation, violation of human and worker´s rights, and in extreme cases, modern slavery.
Action is taken to combat negative impact of this mammoth industry both on the environment and in the lives of people involved in the supply chain: the concepts of circular fashion and sustainable supply used by the European Brand C&A are a model of what a brand can do. At a smaller scale, we´ve been proud to endorse recently young designers whose practices propose local manufacturing and the appropriation and reuse of existing materials as an aesthetic foundation, with a coherent ethical claim. The danger at this stage comes from companies and brands whose investment in communication campaigns and PR products to create the illusion of a “green” attitude is more substantial than actual investment in “green” production. These cases of “greenwashing” abound and can easily take the focus away for a while from what is actually being done.
The fashion industry can mobilise its resources towards more conscious forms of production, keeping in focus the preservation of environment and the wellbeing of the people involved. Disposability is ingrained in the fabric of modern life, but most scenarios for a sustainable future exclude it. What does fashion design – for that matter, design in general – look like when we take disposability away?
Words: Elena Stanciu